Brig. Gen. Vincent Brooks, former chief spokesperson for U.S. Central Command during Gulf War II, outlined his principles of leadership as part of Sunday night's kickoff event for the second annual Coach K and Fuqua School of Business Conference on Leadership.
Brooks outlined three components for successful leaders: taking individuals and bonding them into a cohesive whole, convincing the individuals that they are part of something even larger than the whole and pursuing a culture and tradition of excellence.
"If you have pursued a course of excellence in all that you do... that excellence becomes better than the sum of its parts," Brooks said. "It begets excellence."
Brooks said investing in people and demonstrating a genuine interest in them was vitally important for any leader. He related a story of when he was a young high school basketball player and decided late in his senior year that he was interested in the U.S. Military Academy. Men's basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, then coach at West Point, took a chance on Brooks and helped enable his late admission--the coach's first investment in Brooks.
A second investment, however, was even more meaningful to the young cadet. With disappointing grades, Brooks approached Krzyzewski with a request to quit the basketball team. Expecting a disappointed reaction, Brooks said he was surprised when Krzyzewski expressed his understanding and continued support. To this day, Brooks and Krzyzewski enjoy a mutual respect and admiration.
Brooks spoke often about the "wake" left by leaders. As individuals are exposed to good leadership, he said, they often exhibit the same qualities when they become leaders in their own right. One of those people affected by Krzyzewski's wake was Brooks himself.
Krzyzewski is the namesake of the three-day Coach K and Fuqua School of Business Conference on Leadership, which will feature notable speakers and panelists from journalist Lou Dobbs to former National Basketball Association star David Robinson. Secretary of the Department of Homeland Defense Tom Ridge will give the keynote address today at noon.
For a $1,500 fee, attendees gain the opportunity to learn leadership skills and techniques from people who have succeeded professionally--big shots from the corporate, athletic and political worlds.
"At this conference, you have basically said, 'I want to learn. I'm open to new things,'" Krzyzewski said at Sunday's collegial opening gathering. Dean of Fuqua Douglas Breeden and President and CEO of Duke Corporate Education Blair Sheppard joined Krzyzewski and Brooks with brief remarks at the opening.
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